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Student protest at the Scottish parliament. Photo: NUS Scotland

Students get organised to fight debt, cuts and capitalism

Sean Robertson, Heriot-Watt Socialist Students Society

College and university students starting the new term are facing a damaging cocktail of rising debt, cuts to courses and increased living costs. The Scottish Government have failed to tackle these issues and in fact have contributed to a worsening situation for students in Scotland. Students across Scotland are joining Socialist Students in large numbers to be active and organised and ready to fight back.

Drowning in debt

A recent Audit Scotland report shows that average student debt is set to almost double to £20,000 in just 3 years.

Students from the most deprived communities will be hardest hit. Funding from grants and bursaries has fallen by £25 million, while funding via loans has increased by over £150 million since 2013.

The debt gap between richest and poorest students has more than doubled under the SNP. The report also found that the Scottish Funding council had cut funding to universities’ teaching budget, which will intensify pressure on them to find funding elsewhere or to implement further cost cutting measures on campus.

The Scottish Government has cut the public funds they have handed to universities by six per cent in real terms since 2010/11, with drops in the money earmarked for teaching, research and bursaries and grants for the poor.

Audit Scotland highlights a 7% cut in research funding over the past two years, with the universities including Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews suffering reduction in Research Excellence Grant money. We have also seen protests in Dundee by students and staff at the cuts to humanities.

All this flies in the face of the SNP government’s supposed plans to reduce the attainment gap and make education more accessible to poorer students.

Cuts to colleges

Over 140,0000 FE college places have been cut by the SNP government and many courses and facilities have been lost with college mergers. EIS-FELA college lecturers successfully went on strike for improved pay and conditions earlier this year and Socialist Students were on the picket lines with them to show solidarity with their fight against cuts to education.

Striking lecturers in Dundee said that the new arrangements in colleges meant that the staff got less face to face time with students, lowering the quality of their education, especially for students with special educational needs.

The lack of available college places exacerbates the chronic youth unemployment rates in Scotland, which sit at 13% according to government figures, as well as diminishing the skill base and therefore quality of employment available to young people.

Rent won’t wait

In addition to the difficulties caused by education cuts and rising debt, students in Scotland face high living costs. In Edinburgh, high rents and below average term time incomes led to the capital being rated as the least-affordable city for students in the UK.

In a survey of 2500 students regarding affordability, Scottish cities fared badly, with 9 of the top ten affordable cities being found in other parts of the UK.

Average rents for accommodation nationwide is £109 per week, meaning that the majority of a student’s measly loan has to go on paying rent and there is an increased impetus on students to find work at the expense of their studies.

Even in University provided accommodation, rents are sky high. At Heriot-Watt, for example, rents can be £154 per week for room in a shared flat!

Right to education

All of these cuts and attacks on living standards are unnecessary. Politicians at Holyrood and in local authorities the SNP and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour who verbally oppose austerity should refuse to implement cuts.

They should set no cuts budgets and build a mass campaign to demand the money stolen in austerity by the Tories at Westminster.

Choosing to go into full time education should not mean choosing poverty. And we should not have to pay for an economic mess created by the bankers and the billionaires in the first place.

That’s where socialism comes in. There’s more than enough money in society to pay for high quality free education, as the recent Westminster vote to renew Trident at the cost of hundreds of billions pounds highlights. Get involved and fightback today. Join with Socialist Students!

Socialist Students fights for:

  • The writing off of all student debt. The introduction of a living grant for all to replace the current system of loans. Free education for all students in the UK
  • Massive public investment into public services such as education. Tax the super rich and big business, take back education services from privatisation
  • For a £10 an hour living minimum wage without exemptions, scrap zero hour contracts, for the creation of decent jobs and apprenticeship with full trade union rights. For students to have the right to claim housing benefit and JSA ,if unemployed, out of term time.
  • For rent control of student housing decided by democratically elected committees of students trade unions and institutions.
  • For fighting student associations and NUS. For a mass campaign to fight on debt, fees, rent and cuts and for socialist change in society.